Cramming for Finals Week: Flyers Have Three Chances to Get It Right Heading Into Playoffs

Cramming for Finals Week: Flyers Have Three Chances to Get It Right Heading Into Playoffs

Having already been assured a playoff spot,
the Flyers technically have little more to play for than the pride of
conference and division titles, the latter of which can be wrapped up
tonight (based on this scenario), and of course home-ice advantage. But there is also plenty they can unofficially gain over their final three games. 

A few weeks ago, the only uncertainty with this team was which goalie
would be in net. Today, that's about the most concrete answer we know
(btw, Bob starts again tonight in Ottawa). All of sudden, there are a
few new injuries, though none are believed to be too serious, and Chris
Pronger is still out after a setback of sorts with his hand. Other
sources of uncertainty include the team's record at home recently, their
inability to do anything on the power play, an overall tapering off in
scoring, failure to beat teams seven or more slots below them in the
standings, and what, if anything, can be divined from all of these games
ending in shootouts recently.

Let's take a look at a few of these questions, as well as the recent
news on Michael Leighton, with absolutely no promises of actually
answering them. That's presumably what the next three games are for,
although I'm betting we probably won't know anything for sure about this
team until the first round of the playoffs. 

Bob, Boosh, and... Leights? 
First, Sergei
Bobrovsky is your playoff starter, and he'll probably play two of the
remaining games, or all three. After a swoon, he's been quite good
lately, and there's little reason to think Peter Laviolette is wavering
on him. Not even the surprise placement of Michael Leighton on re-entry
waivers should affect the playoff goalie situation, although I
admittedly am not sure why the team is exposing him to the process at
this time. If claimed by another team, the Flyers will be on the hook
for half of the AHL-hot Leighton's salary for another team. However,
Leights is ineligible to play for any of those teams in the upcoming
playoffs, so it's no slam dunk he'll be picked up in the next day. Are
the Flyers just looking to add him for injury depth? Clear half his
salary and some space for AHL goalie development of another goalie with a
longer-term timetable? I assume it's the insurance angle, but I'll tell
you when someone else tells me, because I'm really not sure what the
goal is here. The sting of seeing the roster hit by several injuries at
once is a good reminder of the wear and tear that is on the way though.
CSN's Sarah Baicker says that if Leighton clears, he'll play in one of
the two remaining games. 

Shootout Obscura
We've already gone over the
reasons we don't like the shootout, and yesterday, Peter Laviolette said
essentially the same thing about them—it's really quite hard to evaluate the outcome
of a game that ends in a shootout. Even those of us who are
dyed-in-the-wool shootout haters can lapse into counting any loss
collectively as an L. But as we've pointed out before, these particular
outcomes have very little to do with what will occur when it really
counts, as there is no shootout format in the playoffs. I say "very
little" as opposed to "not at all" because one fact still haunts the
Flyers more than the sight of a gifted scorer tripping over his own
stick to blow the decisive shot attempt—the Flyers should have been
winning many of those games in the first 60 minutes of play.

While the homer in me has been leaning toward the shootout results
obscuring the Flyers' not actually losing, those outcomes have done just
as much to hide the fact that the Flyers aren't winning by two and
three goals against teams they should be clearly better than. When the
shootout is removed, will these games still be going into OT, or can the
Flyers get back to outplaying their opponents enough in regulation to
just effing win? In any case, I'll be ecstatic when the regular season
is over, because the shootout will be gone with it, and we'll actually
be able to discuss who did or didn't win on the morning after. 

Superiority Complex
In all likelihood, the Flyers
will play either one of the bottom two seeds in the Eastern Conference
in the opening round. If not, we'll have seen a dreadful week.
Considering both the seventh and the eighth seeded teams won round one
last season, being a top seed is not necessarily a sunrise on the
horizon. We don't presently know which direction the Flyers are headed
in, and it's suddenly not out of the question that they might be last
year's Capitals. I'm not inclined to think so, but I can safely be
labeled an optimist when it comes to these things. It's rare that a one
seed backs its way into the playoffs, but the Flyers will fit that
description almost regardless to what happens in these final three
games, short of three straight decisive wins. Even then, we've seen
enough lackluster play that there will be concerns come game one.

The Flyers face three supposedly inferior teams this week, starting
tonight in Ottawa. On Sunday, we went over the reasons why a matchup
with the Rangers should be the perfect catalyst to get their blood
moving. The Flyers were decent in the game, but it wasn't the showing we
were looking for. Considering the amount of Flyers-Senators footage you
can find on YouTube, maybe tonight is a little more what the doctor
ordered?

PECO Has a Complaint About Its Bill
Watching the
Flyers' power play, I can't help but think what a microcosm of the
team's issues this is. Their overall dip in scoring can be tied to the
fact that they're not doing a damn thing on the man advantage lately.
Why is this microcosmic to me? Because I can't understand at all what
the freaking problem is. Part of it comes with the fact that most people
who follow hockey, fans and media alike, lack a true understanding of
the X's and O's of this very fluid sport at the professional level. I
admit to being in this camp, and the power play is how I know my
shortcomings. I cannot for the life of me figure out why a team stacked
with 20-goal scorers and a few 30/30 men can't score when the other team
has fewer players on the ice than they do, nor what they should be
doing differently to fix it. I'm this close to becoming one of
those fans who just yells SHOOT because I have no idea what else to say.
(Incidentally, it's not "Shoot!" The Flyers have been doing that, but
not with any amount of success.) 

In any case, if there's any one thing this team needs to get in order
above all else, it's the power play. Another goal a game would really
change the complexion of regulation play, which right now has the Flyers
going end to end with opponents scrapping for scoring chances and then
sitting back on defense. With the game tied, opposing teams seem to be
taking fewer chances, which gives the Flyers less ability to use their
great counter-attack to generate offense. There's also no margin of
error for the fluke goals that have plagued the Flyers, such as the
three that have gone in off skates in the past two games.

Will the return of Pronger and Briere help? It should, as they're
among the better PP guys on the team. However, this dip in man advantage
productivity pre-dates Pronger's injury and certainly Briere's. 

The Final Three
Only one of the Flyers' remaining
three games comes against a possible playoff opponent, and that's
Friday in Buffalo. The Sabres could be hungry for their playoff lives
(currently the eighth seed) but Ryan Miller is dealing with an injury
and his availability is uncertain. There is no good reason for the
Flyers not to win at least two of three here and finish with the top
seed in the East. However, they've been losing for bad reasons ranging
from the stupid shootout to the woes on the power play, and a penchant
for making backup goalies look like Dominik Hasek.

More than anything, I'm hoping the final three games serve to get us
ready for the playoffs. I'm not sure that, win or lose, these outcomes
can change much for the team. But it felt great when we were all riding
high, and I want that shit back heading into the playoffs.

Temple's Brown returns to form, but defensive lapse costly in loss

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Temple's Brown returns to form, but defensive lapse costly in loss

BOX SCORE

Josh Brown began looking like his old self on Wednesday night.

Temple’s senior guard missed the Owls' first six games while recovering from surgery he had on his Achilles tendon in May. He returned to the court one week ago in the Owls’ win at St. Joe’s. 

Brown showed some signs of rust in his first two games. He had four points and an assist against the Hawks in 14 minutes of action. On Saturday against Penn, Brown played 11 minutes and scored five points.

In Wednesday’s 66-63 loss to George Washington at the Liacouras Center, Brown played a season-high 24 minutes. He scored 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting and added one assist and made some key plays for the Owls down the stretch in the close loss (see Instant Replay).

“He played great,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He didn’t play great against Penn. Tonight, he was ready to go. He did some really good things for us. It’s nice to have. It’s a nice comfort.”

Brown helped Temple close a large deficit late in the game. He hit a three-point shot from the corner on the fast break with 5:28 left to bring the Owls within three. He hit another three-point shot at the top of the key with 2:44 left to bring Temple within six. 

Less than a minute later, he assisted on a Daniel Dingle three, which made the score 61-58. On Temple’s next defensive possession, Brown grabbed a rebound before Dingle hit another three on the other end of the court to tie the game at 61 with 1:31 left.

With the Owls trailing by three on the game’s final possession, Brown almost drew a foul behind the three-point line before finding Dingle for another open look that hit the back of the rim.

“When I was out there, I was just trying to be in the moment, be in the now,” Brown said. “That’s what I was doing. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. When you do that, you’re focused, and when the shot comes, your preparation takes over.”

Despite his clutch play on the offensive end, Brown was critical of a mental lapse on defense during the game’s most crucial moment. After playing tight defense for almost all of the shot clock, Brown let George Washington forward Tyler Cavanaugh slip to the corner and put up a three-point shot with one second on the shot clock.

Cavanaugh’s three-point attempt with 8.2 seconds left in the game proved to be the game-winner on Wednesday night.

“I lost focus for a little bit,” Brown said. “I helped off for a slight second and that’s all he needed. I give props to that guy for hitting a tough shot, but I could’ve just stayed and not even helped.”

Wednesday’s loss ended a five-game winning streak for Temple, now 6-3 on the season. With defenses focusing on junior forward Obi Enechionyia, who scored 12 points against the Colonials, Brown will be looked at to steady the Owls' offense.

Brown was the only Temple player besides Enechionyia to score more than one basket in the first half as the Owls went into the break trailing 31-25.

“Him being out there, he adds intensity to the game,” Dingle said. “When he goes in the game, the energy goes up. Defensively and offensively he’s a general out there.”

Penn State blasted at home by red-hot George Mason

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Penn State blasted at home by red-hot George Mason

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The cheers reverberating from George Mason's locker room came from players experiencing their hottest streak in years. The quiet from Penn State's mirrored the whimper of the Nittany Lions in the second half as their run was snapped.

Marquise Moore scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Otis Livingston added 18 points and the Patriots beat Penn State 85-66 for their sixth straight win and best stretch since 2011-12 on Wednesday.

"It was a great win for our team, really proud of our guys," George Mason coach Dave Paulsen said. "We really, really competed with toughness in the second half, especially I think our second-half defense was really good."

Jalen Jenkins added 15 points for the Patriots (7-3) who snapped Penn State's four-game winning streak.

Penn State led 38-37 after a wild first half that featured 12 lead changes. But the Raiders took control starting with Livingston's 3-pointer that made it 42-40 early in the second. They dominated from there, leading for the remaining 18:58 and outrebounded the Nittany Lions 44-29, outscored them 44-16 in the paint and held a speedy Penn State team to just two fastbreak points.

"We looked young tonight for whatever reason," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We have to figure that out. We have to play much harder."

Payton Banks led Penn State (6-4) with 21 points. Shep Garner and Lamar Stevens chipped in 13 apiece for the Nittany Lions.

The big picture
George Mason: The Patriots are on a roll and keeping pace in a competitive Atlantic 10 conference that had five teams with six wins entering the night. They seem to have flipped a switch following a 93-65 loss to Houston on Nov. 21 and haven't lost since.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions had been winning despite deficiencies in a few areas while making up for them in others over the last four games. They weren't able to make up for their lack of production in the paint, however.

Guards on the glass
Paulsen was wary of the size advantage Penn State's forwards had heading in. The Patriots didn't start anyone over 6-foot-7 while Penn State boasted a trio of forwards at or taller than that. Paulsen was particularly concerned about 6-foot-9 Mike Watkins who was fresh off his best game where he blocked 12 shots against Wright State.

But the George Mason coach had faith in his guards' ability to attack the net and win those rebounds. Moore entered the game as the country's top rebounding guard with 10 per game and posted his sixth double-double of the season.

"We have some pretty good rebounding guards," Paulsen said. "So you can't do it unless you have really active, rebounding guards."

Veteran responsibility
Penn State's gotten big time contributions from a handful of freshmen and started three as usual. But it was one of the veterans who shouldered blame afterward.

Banks was dejected after the game and pointed the finger at himself. Despite leading the team in points, he wasn't able to help on the glass.

"A lot of it just starts with me right here," Banks said. "I had zero rebounds. We can't rely on Lamar (Miller) and Mike for the scoring load and Julian (Moore). Our guards have to rebound and that's what we lacked this game and it definitely showed on the scoreboard."

Up next
George Mason plays at Penn on Saturday and has three of their final five games in 2016 at home.

Penn State plays Pittsburgh in Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday and has another on the road before closing out 2016 with a pair of games at home, including the Big Ten opener on Dec. 27.